Lessons learned from two decades of working remotely.
Since my daughter was born 25 years ago, I have had intervals of working remotely, both full-time and part-time. After owning my own company for the last 10 years, with a productive team that includes remote employees, I have learned more than a few things about how to maximize productivity while working remotely. I hope that, by sharing some of this hard-earned wisdom, I can help you make your work at home experience both positive and productive!
Here are my tips:
Go to work
This is the first, most essential step! Put yourself in the same mindset as though you are going to the office. Actually “get ready” for work; whether you go to the gym in the morning, go for a run, read the paper, or have other a.m. rituals: do them, then get dressed and go to work. Sure, it’s comfy to work in your favorite flannel pajama pants, but even stepping it up a notch to stylish “athleisure wear” puts you in a better mindset to “be at work.” Commit to the time that you will start and be at your workspace, showered and ready to go.
Sanctuary is key
Ideally, you have a dedicated room that you can repurpose as a workspace, where you set up your laptop, phone, and other work supplies free from distractions. If possible, repurpose a spare bedroom so that your “workspace” doesn’t interfere with your personal space, including the bedroom where you sleep. Find a space where you can close the door and “go to work.”
If you don’t have a spare room, dedicate a space in your home that is not in the center of activity. It’s important to minimize distractions while you are working and also ideal to have your workspace separated from your living space so in the off hours there is a physical separation or at least some distance. That separation better suggests the “go to work/leave work” differentiation.
Ask my wife and kids; each of them remembers that, during the days that I was working at home while they were around, the rule was that “Daddy is at work now,” so during those times I wasn’t accessible unless there was an actual crisis that involved bodily harm. Avoid working in the kitchen where, in addition to temptation from the snack jar, your mind can wander to making lunch, starting dinner, doing the dishes, etc. Think about your optimum level of noise; if you like it quiet, find a quiet place. If you like music, set up a playlist that creates the right mood and use your AirPods or a Bluetooth speaker. Keep the TV off and make your home office mood professional and productivity-inducing.
Set a calendar and stick to it
The most effective workers use a calendar. At home, it’s even more important to keep you on task. Now, consider scheduling blocks of productivity time and put those blocks on your calendar. Reward yourself after a 3-hour block by allowing a 20-minute walk to the coffee shop or other short break that allows you to recharge. Record every scheduled activity on your calendar so you have a visual of your workday and can manage it effectively.
Technology is your friend, and your enemy
In our office, we use “softphones” that allow employees to call from their laptops if they are traveling in the same way as if they were at their desks. Our ATS is accessible from anywhere just by logging in. These technologies allow for seamless remote work and, perhaps, your company has similar tools to allow you to work at home as effectively. But don’t let technology also turn into a distraction. Now that no one is looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to open up that tab to your favorite social media page to “keep an eye on things.” Don’t do it! That’s a rabbit hole that you can go down and suddenly find yourself, hours later, having lost a chunk of productivity time.
Humans are social animals and we crave interaction. As a manager, consider regularly scheduled calls to keep a sense of connectivity and shared goals. Explore video-conferencing vs conference calls to replicate face-to-face interaction and a sense of “being together.” Set up shared workgroups via Slack, Skype, Zoom, or another internal communication system so your teams are in closer contact with each other. If you can spend time with friends after hours, be sure to do so to feed your need for human interaction. But, as health situations dictate and may require more solitary time at home, fill that need for interaction in other ways. Again, this is an area that technology can help with.
Find out what works for you
We are all different! I work best with no background noise while my daughter, a designer, is at her best with lively music pumping into her ears at all times. Whatever your groove is, use that to your advantage.
Keep these tips in mind because organization and minimizing distractions are universal truths when it comes to a productive work at home situation. Let’s all make the best of this and come out on the other side of this crazy adventure having learned a few things about ourselves and how to be better, more productive human beings.
Rob Bowerman is President and Founder of The Bowerman Group- a leading executive search firm for luxury brands in the U.S. and Canada. Rob is also President of The Pinnacle Society, the premier consortium of industry-leading recruiters in North America.